This September, disabled cyclists will be among those competing at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. In a new movement lab, the prosthesis is optimizing artificial limbs to handle the movements cyclists make, ensuring prime performance. Despite the professional models made available for the cyclists, it is not easy to find ideal artificial limbs for athletes. As a result of the varying limitations, athletes must test out from a variety of prosthetics to decide which is most suitable.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart have managed to build a mobile, biomechanical measuring station, while also developing a suitable test prosthetic. This work was carried out in collaboration with the cycling division of the National Paralympic Committee Germany (DBS).
The goal of the researchers working on the project is to accurately establish objective parameters that will allow for testing on how well a prosthesis fits, as well as how the athlete can move. Using these criterions, the prosthesis can be adjusted to precisely match the wearer’s physical characteristics, the level of training, and body weight. To ensure the prosthetics are adjusted to fit, the researchers first run the data collected through a software program that simulates all possible adjustments, identifying the best of the prosthetics for scientists to then try out a live test with the athlete.
In the movement lab, the athlete sits on a stationary bike – a cycle ergometer – with markets attached on their body. As they pedal, eight to twelve infrared cameras record their position within half a millimeter. Sensors on the pedals measure the force the athlete applies to the pedals in all three spatial directions. “This data tells us both how much force the joint exerts and how much work the muscles are doing,” says Blab.
The researchers will use the German athletes’ training camp to collect data for the Paralympics. They aim to establish a long-term collaboration with the para-cycling team extending beyond the 2016 Paralympic Games, ensuring that future generations of athletes have the prosthetics they need.